The link between chronic migraines and TMJ disorder

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Migraines are debilitating for anyone, the word closest associated with migraines is ‘intense’ and migraines cause many symptoms, which weaken the body.

Research has discovered that there is a correlation between chronic migraines and dysfunctional jaw and facial muscle issues. Issues most commonly known as temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).

The biggest problematic area is the temporomandibular joints (TMJ) which connect the jawbone to the skull, and are located anteriorly to the tragus of the ear.

The research suggests that the TMJ disorder headaches increases the severity of migraine attacks.

What does it mean to have chronic migraines?

This means that the patient is suffering from headaches for at least fifteen days or more every month, with at least eight being a migraine attack.

What is temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD)?

TMDs are problems regarding lower and upper teeth, the facial muscles that control chewing and jaw movements, and the jaw joint.

Specifically, TMJ disorder is pain and discomfort in the jaw joint, connecting the lower jaw to the skull.

“The prevalence in women is reportedly 2 to 5 times that in men … the manifestation of temporomandibular symptoms … is high in women than in men” says researchers from Seoul National University Bundang Hospital, Abouelhuda, Kim, Kim and Kim.

Causes and symptoms of TMJ Disorder and Headaches:


Joint cartilage damaged by arthritis

  • Joint damage following a blow or impact
  • Disk erodes or moves out of place


  • Pain and tenderness of the jaw
  • Pain in the temporomandibular joints
  • Aching pain around ears
  • Aching facial pain
  • Locking of the joint (opening mouth is difficult)
  • Difficulty chewing

How are chronic migraines connected to TMD disorders?

Research has shown that patients suffering from headaches and TMDs reported increased pain, over those suffering from only TMDs.

A study undertaken by the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial Sciences at Sapienza, University of Rome took a sample of 1198 TMD patients. These patients were selected to take part in a study, where 894 (75%) patients suffered from headaches; while 304 (25%) patients did not.

The 894 patients suffering from headaches were put under a neurological assessment, which concluded that 625 of the patients had headaches.

Patient sample:

  • 625 patients suffered TMD and headaches
  • 304 patients suffered TMD, with no headaches

These patients were categorised by five categories: sociodemographic factors (age, sex, occupation), types of pain, functional aspects (maximum mouth opening), occlusion (dental formula and parafunctions) and diagnostics (how the patient was referred).

The sample patients were tested on, taking into consideration all variables of headaches and TMD symptoms and diagnostics, full results can be viewed here.

Headaches were shown to be the most common symptom of TMD issues, as 70% of patients with headaches, also had clinical confirmations of TMD. Patients who suffer both TMDs and headaches report significantly higher levels of pain, in comparison to patients suffering only TMDs.

In both sample groups, joint pain was the most frequent TMD issue, as it was present in 70-80% of all patients. Joint pain was associated with TMD issues, whereas muscular problems were associated with headaches. However joint pain seems to make headaches worse, than muscular pain can.

Which means TMD issues which cause joint pain increase the intensity of headaches, which causes muscular pain.

From this study, we can gather that patients who suffer from headaches and migraines, tend to suffer from more intense and frequent TMD pain.

Patients who suffer from chronic migraines should have an assessment of their temporomandibular joints to diagnose whether they suffer from TMD issues.

How does TMJ likely cause headaches and migraines?

The pain from jaw clenching and TMJ pain can cause headaches, or in some cases, migraines. This happens by pain in your jaw muscles and joints travelling to places within your skull.

The issue is that headaches and migraines are further intensified by musculoskeletal disorders, meaning issues related to the jawbone, teeth clenching, and facial muscles will in fact intensify headaches and migraines.

If you would like to find out more information on TMJ disorder and headaches or think you or someone you know is suffering, TMJ Centre Melbourne can help. We are a jaw pain and chiropractor clinic who are passionate about making sure you receive the best possible treatments.

For more information or to book an appointment, please click here.